How Steve Bannon’s multimedia machine drove a movement and paid him millions

Apr 10, 2017, 02:00 PM

Stephen K. Bannon could barely finish his sentences as he implored the listeners of his Breitbart News radio show to see the new movie “Clinton Cash.”

It was July 20, the homestretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, and Bannon was describing Bill and Hillary Clinton as “scumbags” and “bandits” who had made millions of dollars through political connections.

“Hillary and Bill Clinton are the two single-biggest grifters ever to run for president of the United States,” Bannon told his guest, Peter Schweizer, the author of the book behind the movie.

Bannon, now President Trump’s chief strategist, framed his radio show that day as an urgent effort to reveal important information for voters — but there was more to it.

The show and “Clinton Cash” were components of an intricate multimedia machine comprising nonprofit organizations and private companies that Bannon had leveraged to advance his conservative, populist agenda and bring in millions of dollars. That effort ultimately helped propel Trump into the White House and Bannon into national prominence.

A close look behind Bannon’s radio broadcast that day offers insights about how that machine worked.

As it happened, the research behind “Clinton Cash” had been funded by the Government Accountability Institute, or the GAI, a tax-exempt public charity that Bannon had created a few years earlier and that had paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars as executive chairman, documents show.

“Clinton Cash” had been produced by Glittering Steel and Bannon Film Industries, two companies owned by Bannon, who was one of the screenwriters.

Bannon also was an owner of ARC Entertainment, the firm listed as distributor of the film.

And he was receiving a six-­figure salary as executive chairman of Breitbart News, which heavily promoted the film through Bannon’s radio program and its controversial website.

There’s no telling how many in his audience understood the connections. Many of the links are scattered among corporate, court and tax records, as well as in a financial disclosure report for 2016 that the White House released last month.

A Washington Post examination found that Bannon was able to produce more than a dozen conservative documentaries over the past decade by drawing on a network of two dozen nonprofit organizations and private companies. Bannon helped arrange donations from wealthy Republicans to the nonprofits that paid him for films and other work, documents show. At the same time, Bannon and his firms took in at least $2 million from the nonprofits and an additional $5 million from the private companies, records show.

Bannon, who had already made millions on Wall Street, often was paid in multiple ways for each project — a common practice in Hollywood, where he had worked as an entertainment financier. Because he was paid through the nonprofit and private companies, which have limited obligations to disclose details about their activities, the total pay to Bannon remains unknown.

In a personal financial disclosure released by the White House last month, Bannon reported his net worth as between $11.8 million and $53.8 million.

Bannon, 63, accumulated millions from the 1980s through the early 2000s as a financier on Wall Street and in Hollywood, where he immersed himself in the nuances of film production and distribution.

He had a yen for making movies and could sequester himself for days and weeks to write scripts and film treatments, former colleagues said. Drawing on lessons from both New York and Hollywood, Bannon was able to command substantial consulting fees from companies while serving as a part-time adviser for both financing and creative work.

In 2004, Bannon made a ­political-oriented documentary, “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed,” based on a book by Schweizer about the 40th president. During the movie’s promotion, Bannon met a rising star of conservative media named Andrew Breitbart.

But more important to Bannon’s career as the ...